“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28
As I have explored the church’s traditional view of hell, I’ve learned a lot about the power of confirmation bias. Once we believe something, it’s hard for us to consider something that contradicts it, no matter how much evidence there is. It leads us away from “believing what we read,” into a place where we only, “read what we already believe.” It’s hard to learn or grow in this place because we already think we know how things are.
At the foundation of the doctrine of eternal torment is a belief that our souls are eternal. The early church didn’t explicitly comment on this topic, but two later church fathers did. Tertullian and Augustine both referenced our eternal souls, but as proof they quoted Plato, not Scripture! (Tertullian; Resurrection of the Flesh; 3; The Fire that Consumes; 300). The Old Testament described man as a transient being: “For all men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:6-7) Only Greek philosophy describes us as automatically having an eternal soul.
The New Testament gives many descriptions of what eventually happens to souls who reject Christ, if we will only listen:
- The body and soul will be destroyed. (Quoted above)
- The chaff will be burned up in eternal fire. (Matthew 3:12)
- The enemies of God will be consumed by fire. (Hebrews 10:27)
- The wicked will perish like beasts. (2Peter 2:6)
- The wicked will be burned to ashes like Sodom and Gomorrah by eternal fire. (2Peter 2:12; Jude 7)
- Those whose names are not in the book of life will experience the second death in the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)
This is what Scripture says, but if we believe the soul is eternal then destroy can’t mean destroy, consumed must not mean consumed, burned up doesn’t mean burned up, perish must mean something different then perish, and death can no longer mean death.